Whether you're apartment or job hunting, leasing a new car, or shopping for your first home, your credit score is important.
Banks, lenders, and even employers use your credit score as a way of measuring how financially responsible you are.
But staying on top of your credit score can be difficult.
Think about it this way—it's easy to track your debt, because you probably get monthly reminders on your phone, in the mail, and through email.
But tracking your credit score is a bit trickier.
In fact, many people have no idea what their credit score even is. Only 33% of Americans have even looked at their credit report.
And only 41% of Americans understand what their credit score actually measures.
But even if you understand what affects your credit score, it can still be hard to improve your number.
Bills can slip through the cracks — and I mean that literally too.
Just ask my wife who found an outstanding power bill in the car when we were loading up for a family road trip!
Emergency expenses can cause you to miss a credit card payment and a sudden change in your financial situation—like losing a job or having unexpected medical expenses—can make it impossible to stay on top of your debt.
And when that happens, your score can plummet.
Don't freak out. Rebuilding your credit is not impossible.
But it does take work. Back in the day, when I was drowning in student loans, the financial strategy that eventually got me back afloat was the 50/20/30 budgeting rule.
And, as Erin Lowry notes on the Magnify Money blog, "Don't despair. There are plenty of avenues you can take in order to rehabilitate your credit score."
These days, our friends in Silicon Valley and elsewhere have been hunkered away building some amazing new apps to help us manage our spending, earnings, savings, and budget.
Had apps like these been around when I had student loan debt, I could have easily saved myself time and unnecessary financial struggles.
By using apps that can help with the most challenging aspects of managing your credit, you can make the whole process easier.
You can even automate some of the steps, which means you'll build better credit without even thinking about it.
And better credit means lower premiums, better rates on your loans, and more money in your pocket to chip away at your debt.
Once you know your credit score, it's important to keep tabs on it—and to continue building better credit to raise your score.
CreditKarma makes it easy to keep an eye on your credit score.
The app tracks your credit score from two of the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion and Equifax) and provides weekly updates.
You'll get alerts if your score suddenly dips due to a missed payment or credit inquiry, which is super helpful because combing through your credit reports for errors can be a pretty boring task.
The app can also help you raise your score by building a better credit history with helpful tips, loan recommendations, and resources like Direct Dispute (see below!).
Credit score 411. Monitor your credit score with weekly updates from two credit bureaus, and get alerts when anything changes.
Error management. If you notice an error on your credit report, use the Direct Dispute feature with TransUnion directly through the app. (And that means you're much more likely to actually do it!).
Approval assistance. The Approval Odds feature lets you know which loans you're likely to get approved for. Not only can getting approved—and therefore having more credit available—help your score, but it can also cut back on the number of credit inquiries on your report.
Each time you apply for a loan, the lender pulls your credit report, also known as an inquiry. Too many inquiries in a short period of time can lower your score, but Approval Odds may help you avoid racking up inquiries by nudging you toward loans and accounts that are suitable for you).
Like other credit monitoring apps, CreditSesame lets you check your credit score and alerts you to any suspicious activity on your accounts.
You'll only get your score from one credit bureau, TransUnion, instead of all three, but CreditSesame stands out by offering $50,000 in identity theft insurance to every user.
Yep, even with the free version.
If your data is breached or your credit card is stolen, this can help you cover any expenses you incur—like legal fees, or taking time off work to get everything sorted out—so you don't have to dip into your savings.
CreditSesame also offers a Debt Analysis tool, which can help you learn what's affecting your score and what you can do to improve it.
Dana Sitar, a blogger at The Penny Hoarder, says she used this feature to begin chipping away at $58,423 in debt.
Credit score monitoring. Your credit score is updated monthly through TransUnion.
Theft protection. Identity theft insurance covers any expenses you might incur if your personal information is stolen.
Homeowner help. For homeowners, CreditSesame offers a home value monitoring tool that can help determine your home's current value and how much equity you've earned.
Available platforms.CreditSesame is available for both Apple and Android devices.
Your payment history has the biggest impact on your credit score, but it's not easy keeping track of what's due, when, and how on earth you're going to pay for it.
And if you're not following a budget, it can be easy to overspend, making you more likely to miss a payment or rack up additional debt, both of which can ding your credit score.
Mint helps you create a budget, stick to it, and pay your bills on time, all of which can help boost your score over time.
Analyze your spending. When you link your Mint account to your credit card and bank account, it automatically sorts your expenses into categories (like groceries or gas), so you can clearly see what you're spending each month and where there's room to save.
Set a budget. The app helps you create a budget based on your current income and expenses. So if you notice you spent $254 at restaurants last month, for example, you can set a budget of $150 instead. The app will alert you when you get close to that cap.
Pay your bills. The Mint app can alert you when bills are almost due, and you can even use it to pay bills online, so you're not logging in to a million different payment websites each month.
Debt Payoff Planner
If you're carrying a lot of debt, it can be a credit-score killer.
By chipping away at your debt, you'll improve your credit utilization ratio.
Say, for example, you have three credit cards, each with a $500 balance and a $2,000 limit.
Out of $6,000 available to you, you're using $1,500—or 25%.
If you paid off one of those credit cards, you'd be using $1,000 out of the $6,000 available—closer to 15%.
This can make a big difference to your score because your ratio is the second biggest factor influencing your credit score.
But figuring out the best get-out-of-debt strategy can be confusing. There are two common methods:
- "Debt Avalanche" — pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first
- Dave Ramsey's "Debt Snowball" — pay off the smallest balance first, so you get a sense of accomplishment (which can inspire you to keep plugging away at your financial goals)
The Debt Payoff Planner app can help you decide which of those methods is better for your financial situation.
Plug in your current debts and how much you can afford to put toward them each month, and the app will show you how long it would take to pay off your debt using each method.
Number crunching. If math isn't your strong point, this debt tracker app will do the calculations for you, so you know which payoff method will help you get rid of debt fastest.
Personal planning. If you can afford to make a little more than the monthly payment—even if it's just an extra $10 per month—Debt Payoff Planner can show you exactly how those additional payments will affect your balance.
Resources. The app also includes tips and info on topics like debt consolidation, balance transfers, and faster payoff.
YNAB, which stands for You Need a Budget, is an online budgeting and expense-tracking tool with a very devoted base of users.
As a blogger at Coosa Valley Credit Union wrote, "Can a budget app have a cult following? Apparently, yes!"
The web version syncs to your credit cards and bank accounts, while the mobile companion app lets you manually enter expenses while you're out and about.
For example, you can log the $2 coffee you paid cash for, and the info will automatically sync to your account.
YNAB can help you improve your credit score by guiding you to set a budget and stick to it so you don't rack up credit card debt.
According to a review at Investor Junkie, the app does this by helping users identify where they spend their money, budget for big expenses like annual insurance premium or family vacations.
And you learn to adjust their budget when the unexpected happens.
The app's Debt Paydown features offer tools and tutorials to help you create a plan for chipping away at the debt you already have.
One catch: It's only free for the first 34 days. After that, you'll be billed $50 annually for the service, which can be a stretch if your finances are already tight.
But the app claims that new users typically save $200 their first month, and a few thousand in the first nine months. The trial period can help you decide if your results justify the annual cost.
Expense management. If you've created a family budget but find yourself forgetting to write down expenses, YNAB can help by automatically tracking every dollar you spend.
Easy analysis. YNAB is focused on helping users take control of their finances, get out of debt, and set financial goals. Seeing your progress in graphs and pie charts can make it easier to understand where your money is going and how you can save.
Budget boost. The web-based app makes it easy to set a budget, which can help you lower your monthly expenses. The money you save each month can be put toward paying down debt, which will ultimately help boost your credit score.
Your financial situation can change day to day, and it can be hard to stay on top of everything.
Even if you're carefully tracking your expenses, you may overlook other changes like the interest rate on your credit card going up, or hidden fees on your bank account.
Wallaby bills itself as a "financial sidekick" that can alert you to any changes, fees, rewards, or rate hikes.
Wallaby can also help you earn more rewards on the money you spend.
As LaToya Irby noted at The Balance, "If you have multiple rewards credit cards, there's a good chance you're not getting the most of them."
Based on your location, the app will recommend the best card in your wallet.
For example, if you're at a restaurant, the app might suggest a card in your wallet that earns double or triple points on dining purchases.
And, of course, earning rewards can mean more money in your pocket, which can go toward paying bills on time or lowering your debt.
Watch your dollars. This app will help track your spending from every conceivable angle.
Money-saving alerts. Get notified when there are changes to your account, like hidden fees or higher interest rates.
Location-based rewards tracker. Find out which credit card in your wallet will earn you the most points at your current location.
Discover Credit Scorecard
Before you can work on improving your credit, it helps to know exactly where you stand and what you need to work on.
As the folks at myFICO put it (and they know, since myFico is the go-to service for understanding your credit report), "Credit score repair begins with your credit report."
But many people have no idea what their credit score is until they try to open a loan. So how can you find out what your FICO score is before you actually need it?
As you may know, everyone is entitled to receive a free copy of their credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com, the only website authorized by the Federal Trade Commission.
But there's a downside:
While you'll be able to view your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), your numerical score isn't included.
That's where the Discover Credit Scorecard comes in.
Simply sign up—even if you're not a Discover customer—and answer a few questions to confirm your identity.
You'll be able to see your FICO score right away.
As a review at Credit Sesame notes, "There's no catch. You don't need to be a cardmember, and as long as you are willing to submit your personal information, you can see your score for free."
Credit score 101. Learn your FICO score, and find out which factors are affecting your credit score—for better or worse—so you know where you need to improve.
Free for all. You don't need to be a cardmember to use the online tool.
Easy access. The sign-up process is simple, and you'll have your score within minutes.
Available platformsDiscover Credit Scorecard is strictly a web-based tool.
This Bankrate-owned app offers a free TransUnion credit report and credit score every three months.
For $8 per month, users can upgrade to a pro version that includes tools and features specifically designed to raise your credit score — like 24/7 credit monitoring, an analysis of what's keeping you from a perfect credit score, and a timeline of events that may have impacted your credit score.
Pro users get monthly updates on their credit score, along with an analysis of exactly how your financial habits are affecting your credit score and what you can do to improve it.
A Credit Timeline can also show you the history of your credit score and pinpoint key events that affected your score.
Credit score monitoring. Your credit score and credit report are available monthly (paid version) or every three months (free version).
Helpful alerts. The app will alert you when you're eligible for an updated credit report.
Membership your way. While the monthly fee for a pro membership may be a stretch, you're not locked in and can cancel at any time.
Email resources per request. Users have the option of receiving email updates about current interest rates, refinancing options, and the housing market.
Available platformsQuizzle is strictly a web-based tool.
Verdict: which app is best for you?
One thing all of these apps have in common:
Their main purpose is to simplify the process of managing your finances and improving your credit score.
My app of choice is Mint, which helps me cut down on my various expenses — like the occasional mid-day Starbucks run — with its financial visualizers.
That might mean something else for you, though.
Needless to say, trying to juggle 10 different finance apps at once might feel overwhelming.
For now, choose one app that tackles your most pressing financial challenge.
If you're overwhelmed by debt, consider an app that helps you establish a payoff strategy.
Or, if you're constantly racking up late fees, look into an app that has payment-due reminders or online bill payment (or both!).
Once you've gotten the hang of your ideal app, you may decide that's all you need—or you may have a clearer picture of what else you could use another app for.
Do you have a favorite financial app?
What do you like most about it?
How has it helped your credit score?
Let us know in the comments below.